About Father Canole And Keeping The Faith

by Bill Brenner on March 18, 2012

Life as a Catholic in the city of Haverhill, Massachusetts can be a bitch, sometimes. Here we are waking up to news that another priest, Rev. Robert Canole, has resigned from his pastoral duties in disgrace.

We look up to our priests and count on them for inspiration. We go in a confessional with them and spill our deepest, darkest faults. Then some of those priests let us down hard.


According to my local paper, The Eagle-Tribune, Conole won’t be coming back to Sacred Hearts Church. My old friend Paul Tennant wrote:

Conole’s resignation has been accepted by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston. He was investigated by the Archdiocese of Boston for “serious adult-related misconduct,” according to a statement read by the Very Rev. Arthur Coyle, episcopal vicar for the Merrimack Valley Region, during weekend Masses at Sacred Hearts.

He left in May under a shroud of mystery. Rumor had it he was dealing with anger management issues. At the time, I wrote a post encouraging people to send him cards and letters of support like they did when my former pastor, the late Dennis Nason of All Saints, took a leave of absence to confront his alcoholism.

I also wrote something when Father Keith LeBlanc, a former priest at my parish and most recently pastor of St. John’s across town, left in a hurry after it came to light that he was being investigated for mishandling church dollars. It turns out he spent $83,000 of church money on porno movies and got three years of probation after pleading guilty to larceny. That one really hurt because LeBlanc led my RCIA group the year I converted.

But I still believe in what I wrote at the time, which is that everyone fails and has a shot at redemption.

Sometimes I wonder how I can stick up for these priests. After all, how much can a Catholic take? These are the same priests who tell us how we should live, how we should vote and how we should treat others. Theoretically, I should be mad as hell.

And yet I’m not angry. Sad, yes. But not angry.

I still believe what I said before, that as human beings, we all fail frequently and have a chance to set things right.

I’ve written about my own failures a million times in this blog. I’d be a hypocrite if I ripped into these priests. I’d probably feel differently if I was the victim of a pedophile priest. But I’m not.

In the 11 years I’ve lived in Haverhill, Mass., I’ve seen the best and worst sides of the Catholic Church.

On the ugly side, there were priests who played a part in the sex abuse that ultimately blew up in Cardinal Law’s face. There are parishioners who get so caught up in church politics that they forget what they’re truly there for, and they make life miserable for others. There was Father LeBlanc.

On the other side of the spectrum was Father Nason going public about his alcoholism, inspiring us all with his comeback. And, most importantly, there are all the people who have found their faith in recent years regardless of whatever ugliness is in the headlines, including me.

We all fail, no matter what our position in life. The important thing is what we do with our failures.

I hope these disgraced priests find a way to turn their experiences into something we can all learn and benefit from. The jury is still out on whether that will happen.

But as I keep saying, my faith is in God, not the humans who serve the church for better and worse.

That’s what keeps me steady in moments like this.

Eagle-Tribune file photo

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Martin Fisher March 18, 2012 at 2:21 pm

This is the mystery of faith. We are able to forgive those who, by all measures that society provides, are unforgivable. It’s a sign of a maturing faith that you are able to separate your personal emotional response from looking at these clergy as God looks at them – fallible human beings….just like all of us.

Take care, Bill – and keep the faith.

Christy March 18, 2012 at 5:22 pm

I like the last comment you made which is what I was thinking all along as I was reading this. We are all accountable and so are the priests. We have to follow God even if they are not and most importantly they need our prayers more than anything. There are so few priests and they are under so much pressure. Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not making excuses. We will all be judged according to how well we followed God’s will and not our own.

J October 2, 2012 at 10:32 pm

I don’t know exactly what problems led to Fr. Conole’s resignation and I don’t need to know.

But I do know that he accomplished a great deal of good, which must not be forgotten.

He has suffered from the disgrace of having to leave his parish and a medical condition that could have taken his life. I pray that he will find grace and mercy in the overflowing love of God.

Bethany Nading October 30, 2012 at 9:21 pm

Anger management takes some time to cure. the patient should really be willing to undergo treatment. ^

My favorite blog site

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Bill Brenner February 10, 2013 at 5:13 pm

No problem. Go for it.

Scott April 18, 2014 at 10:12 am

Mr. Canole was my shop teacher back in the 80’s. One day, he lectured us about “Clarence,” a gay guy that he loved to ridicule. Being young, I made the mistake of saying “what’s with you and Clarence?” as class ended. He held me after class, pushed me into a corner, put his hands around my neck and hauled me off the ground. He assumed I was suggesting he was gay and proceeded to spew hatred about gays to me and demanded I write a N-page paper about homosexuality. Once he realized he’d be fired if this episode were to go public, he released me and told be not to write the paper. The guy was a raving lunatic and if I were to speculate, a self-loathing and closeted homosexual with serious anger management issues. I just googled him to see if he’d ended up in prison and found this.. I can’t say I’m surprised.

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